Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Religious Security

This post is written in response to this one by Honestly Frum. The excerpts are two comments, the first by The Hedyot and the second by Garnel Ironheart.

"First you say: " is people like Rabbi Avi Weiss and Yitz Greenberg who are so out of the mainstream that soon their brand of Orthodoxy will not be recognizable."

Then, you write,
"The minute you tell me that my hashkafos are wrong and therefore everything I believe in must be discounted because they do not fit into your box, you throw everything that is great about our religion out of the window. "

You're perfectly comfortable with writing Avi Weiss out of Judaism, but you think it's such a travesty when black-hatters do it to you?!

Don't you realize that the same way that you view Avi Weiss is how they view you? How can you complain about what they're doing, when you are doing the exact same thing? Yes, I know you might say say that Avi Weiss is too far outside the confines of halacha, but then wouldn't they say the same thing about you? And wouldn't Avi Weiss say that he is within the parameters of halacha just like you would say to the Lakewooders?"

"As The Hedyot noted, if MO is going to rant at the Chareidim that they're not taking you seriously, then you have to answer a question: what's the difference between that and when the non-Orthodox complain that MO doesn't take them seriously?"

I think that point is really important. I thought of it as I was reading the post (before I got to the comments). On the one hand, you don't want to be looked at as less frum because to you, you are frum, but on the other, you're looking at others as less frum when to them, they are frum. I'm not saying people like R' Avi Weiss are doing things that are completely acceptable. But on the other hand, it's a double standard to complain about Yeshivish people feeling they are so much frummer than you and then you feeling you are so much frummer than people on the left.

The way you behave and feel about your own religious validity should not be based on what other people are doing, anyway. I don't feel insecure about my hashkafos and the way I practice Judaism and, therefore, I don't really care that some Yeshivish person might look down on me. I know I'm a frum person. I don't need the approval of everyone "to the right."

I think the bigger problem is that people assume that if you're in the Yeshivish community or you speak the lingo or you're a guy who has long payos and wears black and white and a hat or a girl in a beis yaakov uniform, etc. - that it means those people are "frummer." You don't know how they practice Judaism. They belong to a certain upbringing and philosophy, but that philosophy doesn't actually mean they behave in a "frummer" way than you. So they don't have TV in their homes. Okay. But maybe they are really rude or speak a lot of lashon hara. Or have no concept of kibud av va'em. Or anything. They have weaknesses and you have weaknesses and there is what to be learned from everyone, to the right of you AND to the left of you, both on how to behave AND how NOT to behave. Not having a TV in your home or not talking to boys or wearing a pleated black skirt does NOT make a person frummer.

Then again, I strongly dislike the mentality of, "Okay, so I don't keep the laws of tznius, but I'm a nice person which is more than can be said for you!" There has to be a balance there, too. You can't excuse skimping out on important areas of halacha just because you follow others well. Kudos to you for whichever areas of halacha you keep like they are second nature. However, that does not mean you should feel satisfied with your religious growth. We are obligated in ALL of halacha - not just ben adam l'chaveiro and not just ben adam l'makom. Judaism is a combination of the behavioral - honoring your parents, not speaking lashon hara, being respectful towards others - and of nitty-gritty details, such as dressing tzniusly (an area many girls take issue with in high school), what time of day certain mitzvos are to be performed, etc.

I've heard both sides: "Do you think God really cares if I cover my elbow or not? Or if I cover my hair? Or how much hair I actually cover? Do you think God really cares when or how I perform this mitzva? They're just semantics so that other people can feel superior and in control by telling you to do them. That's what's wrong with our religion." And there's also, "I follow halacha. What you're doing is not halacha. Very nice that you're nice to people, but anyone can be nice to people. I'm actually following halacha. Look at the way I dress, the way I shuckle when I daven. I'm super frum."

Both of these mentalities are wrong. Judaism is not about "do you think God cares?" It's not about making the religion more convenient for you. It's about how much you care. If there's someone you really respect, you would do things for that person, even if you weren't sure how much that person cared that you were doing those things, right? Look at the way fans treat celebrities.

At the same time, it's not about focusing so much on the measurements and details that you forget the bigger picture.

Judaism is both. It's about caring, it's about the big picture, it's about human relations, and it's also about the measurements, calculations, and little details. You should not have one without the other. Doing so would be lacking in your halachik observance.

What is important?

Following halacha, following the Torah, serving God.

We trip over ourselves because "following halacha" is so vague. What does it mean to follow halacha? Whose halacha? Which way of following halacha is acceptable? How far can you go before you're out of acceptable halachik bounds? And who decides that?

That's where the problems start, and then spiral out of control.

I have no answers. But I do think part of the problem with our perception of other Jews is that we tend to think of Judaism either like this:

Or like this:

With both diagrams depicting a linear ascent towards Torah and God. Either it's a ladder with Modernity at the bottom and Torah at the top so that those closer to Torah look down on those closer to Modernity, or it's a straight line with those on the right closer to Torah, while Modernity is all the way on the left.

But I think Judaism is more like this:

There are many ways to be a frum, Torah observant Jew. Notice that for each arrow, one can still be closer to Torah or further away, but there are equal points on each arrow. A person on one arrow and a person on another are coming at Torah from different ways, but are equidistant from it. So if one arrow was Modern Orthodoxy and another was Yeshivish Jews, a MO Jew and a Yeshivish Jew could both be equally as frum, or equally not as frum.

Of course, the diagram is not perfect. Not every path a person can take leads to Torah. And this is not a call for people to start wondering where certain groups in Judaism fall on these arrows.

It is a call for you to start wondering where you fall. And not to look at other people so much. Just because someone seems to be of a different camp does not mean that person is any more or less frum than you, and therefore you have no business judging anyone but yourself. If you work on your own religious observance, you will feel more religiously secure. And the more religiously secure you feel, the less you'll care about anyone "looking down" on you or "trying to change you." You'll just laugh at that because you'll have a feeling of shleimus that cannot be breached. Not by something so silly as someone else being too judgmental of you.

I believe so strongly what I say here because it is something I have struggled with in various aspects of my life - not just religion. The more comfortable you are with yourself, the less you'll care what anyone else thinks. It just won't matter.

So work on your own religious observance and stop looking at other people's. Stop looking at other people looking at you, as well. You'll be a lot happier.


Anonymous said...

Terrific post - you'll make a philospherette yet!
Its certainly true that self respect is a pre-requisite for a confident (though not arrogant) outlook on the world.

Honestly Frum said...

Erachet, the point of my post seems to be getting lost by many both on and off my blog. I know exactly where I stand. I am right in the middle and enjoy my place there. The problem I am having is that I feel that "charedi Judaism" (for lack of a better term) is being forced down the throats of the Modern Orthodox by many of our so called leaders and people in our communities. They are being hired to teach my kids but instead try to be mikarev them, they publicly dismiss out of hand our hashkafos and claim to be the only "true" holders of the Mesorah.
My point is that we in the Centrist MO camp need to stand up to these people and respond when attacked.
I am not trying to "look Frum" I am frum and the bottom line is that we are at a crossroads in Judaism and our (Centrist MO) population is slowly shrinking due to indoctrination within our schools, communities and institutions. It's time that we stop the bleeding and stand up for what we know and believe is true. We are linked together with Rabbi Avi Weiss (which until the MAHARAT thing would have been an honor)and because of that everything we do is dismissed out of hand. Just like the regular mainstream charedi on the street (I hope) does not want to be linked together with these thugs who are rioting in Jerusalem because they are "a fringe element" so to we need to stand up for ourselves. At the end of the day all I can do is try.
Some may not think it is important but I believe we need to be legitimized by people other than ourselves to have a fighting chance of surviving.

someone said...

To Honest, I am also in the middle. I agree that those in the middle should not be put in the same catagory with those who are more modern, just like we shouldn't gernalize nice and not nice together.
I think people should politly tell people that this is their hashkafa and they are following according to torah also.

someone said...

To Erachet, you have many great points.
I've heard that question before in diff places, people wondering if He cares whether we do the mitzvos. I think G-d cares because He wants us to do what is right, and do what is best for us and the world(on a phys, Spir level) which is keeping the Torah.

Very true that all of us should do both mitzvos b/t person & person, and person & G-d. We should really concentrate on both.

And we Jews should respect the diff paths whether it's Modern Ortho, Yesh/Chass or in between :)

When people try to give us advice, and we know we're doing what we can for our selfgrowth, then just brush off what they say. Or explain that you are doing your best

Erachet said...

Anon613 - Thanks!

Honestly Frum - But that's exactly my point. I don't think a person should need to feel legitimized. Why? Why does someone else's legitimizing of what you do make you feel better about yourself? Why look to others to make you feel good about what you do? What that's doing is saying, "that person is the ideal, I can only be legitimate if the ideal person says I am."

The more confident and secure you feel in your own religious practice, the less you'll care what "Chareidi Judaism" says about you. They're not necessarily correct in being judgmental of you, but the point is, you should go on growing in Judaism and not worry about being approved by everyone out there. You do what you feel is correct within the confines of halacha.

What really sparked my post, however, was the way it seemed like a double standard for you to be looking down on R' Avi Weiss and then complain about Chareidim looking down on you.

You can disagree with something like the MAHARAT school, sure. And it's also okay for someone of a different camp of Judaism to disagree with what you are doing. You worry about you. If someone else is spending too much time and effort judging you, that's his problem.

Someone - Yup!

SJ said...

Great post.

(Those diagrams look strangely familiar, only I don't think it used to be a purple Torah in the center... :)

Erachet said...

SJ - Thanks! And heh. Shhhh.... :P

harry-er than them all said...

R' Soleveitchik used to quote that in the name of the Baal Hatanya (i think?). which is why on simchas torah we dance in a circle around the bima and we are all equidistant from the center.

He (R' JBS) used to also rope off the bima in Boston, because it was there the symbolically hashem rests on simchas torah.

Someone once came to R' Mottel Katz (of telshe Cleveland) and asked him how is it that frum jews make it to the front page of the papers for stealing?
and he answered him "you know your neighbor who drives on shabbos? is he religious?"
the guy answered "no, of course not"
So R' Katz said "they both aren't religious then. The one who doesn't keep bain adom lamokom, and the one who doesn't keep bain adom lechaveiro"

(not bad, R' Katz and R' Soloveitchik in the same comment)

Honestly Frum said...

I still think you are missing my point but I will leave it here. We in the Centrist MO world have a problem in that we do not have enough good educators to go around. As a result many our schools choose to hire charedim to fill in the gaps. They are the ones teaching my children and they dismiss our hashkafos totaly out of hand? I think we need to have our views accepted so our kids are not being given one message at home and another in school. I do not look down on Rabbi Weiss and I do not dimiss everything he does out of hand. I take issue with a few of his choices and disagree with them (for whatever my opinion is worth) but I still see the good in much of what he does and recognize the need for his yeshiva, unlike the charedim that try to be mekarev my kids in my own school. If you did not go through it or have kids going through it you will not understand where I am coming from, as I suspect.
I need these people who teach my kids to recognize that there is legitimacy in what WE teach them AT HOME and not dismiss it out of hand TO THEM as many of them do. The problem could be solved by only hiring MO rebbeim, but as I said, unfortunately not enough of them to go around.

Erachet said...

Harry-er - I did not know that. Thanks!

Honestly Frum - I hear your point and you're right, education is definitely an issue. The answer might be to try and create quality rebbeim and teachers of your own hashkafa rather than hoping someone of a different mindset is going to cater to MO kids. It's better to work on ourselves - as individuals and as a community - than to rely on others catering to us. But that, of course, is only my opinion.

s said...

In my community, we have a MO school, and a chareidi school and soon a centrist school is moving here from another community. It's nice to have options

the apple said...

Loved this post! Don't know how I missed it earlier. Great, great stuff.

Freeda said...

Just a question erachet, I know I'm missing the point but this is bugging me- you think that watching TV and wearing a black pleated skirt fall into the same category? TV, that's something that one will follow their rav, while I have yet to hear of a rav saying girls should wear black pleated skirts. When we discuss having different hashkafos, that's all fine, as long as your hashkafos are coming from s/w solid- you're following your Rav/Rabbi, be he MO or chareidi. As long as we're not marketing our own ideas as "our hashkafos", just following our leaders, we'll b fine